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Wisconsin Badgers are Legitimate 2016-2017 National Contenders

With a loaded roster that got better with the Nigel Hayes announcement, this Badgers team has a chance to be special.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, someway, the Wisconsin Badgers always seem to be a team that flies under the radar in a lot of national discussions. Maybe it's because they may never shed the 'play ugly, win ugly' type mentality that they've always seemed to have. Regardless, to be winning ugly, you have to be winning. That's certainly something that this program has done plenty of in the past decade plus.

Along the way, they've had some special teams. In most recent memory, you've got the Frank the Tank and Sam Dekker led Badgers that ended Kentucky's perfect season in the Final Four en route to the National Championship game.

This 2016-2017 team looks like a team that has that type of special potential.

Whether Nigel Hayes left or not, this team was going to be talented with players like Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ leading the way along with a really nice supporting cast. Players like Jordan Hill, Zak Showalter and Khalil Iverson were going to provide valuable minutes and effort along with a fair share of production. Had Nigel Hayes departed and remained in the NBA Draft, this team was still likely an upper middle of the pack type team in the Big Ten Conference, as Wisconsin always seems to find a way to be competitive.

But then, we got the announcement. The "I'm Coming Back" announcement. The one that transformed what was going to be a simply above average team into a team that a lot of people are starting to believe could be one of the early legitimate contenders for a Final Four trip and a National Championship.

After all, when Nigel Hayes announced his return, this team got back a lot more than just their best player. They got back their leader, their calming presence on the floor who they could count on. The guy they could give the basketball to when everything else was going wrong and expect to get something positive. And a guy who more often than not, would deliver on those expectations.

Plug him back into this lineup and you've got a team with Ethan Happ as possibly their third best player, depending on whether or not you'd slot Koenig ahead of him. That's an impressive Big 3, no matter how you look at it. And as I mentioned in a piece last week, they've got the X-Factor type players to go along with these guys.

With Greg Gard at the helm, a guy who was on Bo Ryan's staff for years before Ryan forced Wisconsin's hand into making him the interim coach (and I'm sure they're so very thankful now that he did), this team has great leadership at the top. Any team who has a great leader as their head coach, a great leader on the floor and plays with discipline while also being as talented as they are has a chance to be special.

While certainly there is still plenty to watch play out over the remainder of the offseason, these Wisconsin Badgers have all the makeup of a team that is going to do some serious damage throughout the season and a team that is built for the tournament.